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1 Corinthians 15c

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1 Corinthians 15:29… Otherwise, what will those do who are baptized for the dead? If the dead are not raised at all, why then are they baptized for them?

Commentary

            Verse 29 is among the most difficult in the Bible to understand. The passage has baffled scholars for years. The Mormon church uses this passage to justify their practice of baptizing people on behalf of deceased family members who did not know God. They are attempting to save them through their own baptisms and good works. A straightforward reading seems to promote the practice of baptism for the dead. But this is found nowhere else in Scripture, and in fact it is contradicted throughout the whole of Scripture. Salvation does not come to anyone as a result of works but by God’s grace alone (Rom. 4:5; Eph. 2:8-9). So being baptized for someone who has long since perished is worthless to bring them salvation for their sins. Each person must make that choice on their own after God compels them to do so (John 1:12; 6:44).

            The entire context of 1 Cor. 15 deals with resurrection – the resurrection of Jesus Christ and of those who place their faith in him who will one day also experience resurrection from the dead. Paul has already proven the fact of Christ’s resurrection (vv. 1-11) and shown the importance of believing in it (vv. 12-28). Now in v. 29 he asks the question about those who are baptized on behalf of the dead. Apparently those who took part in that practice were the very ones who denied the bodily resurrection of the dead prompting the resurrection topic in 1 Cor. 15. There are at least three possibilities that I will list (over 40 have been proposed!). First, when Paul says, “What will those do who are baptized for the dead” he could be using “baptized” the same way Jesus used it in Mark 10:38 and Luke 12:50 (referring to Christ’s enduring God’s wrath). This interpretation means that v. 29 should read, “What will those do who are dying the deaths of martyrs and joining the ranks of the dead?” The answer to those people would be that those dying as martyrs were dying in vain if there was no resurrection. Though their motives were pure in dying for the Christian cause they would be deluded people for doing so.

A second possibility is that those who are “baptized” simply refers to Christians, and the “dead” refers to deceased believers. The Greek preposition “for” is then rendered “because of,” and the passage reads, “Otherwise, what will Christians do who come to know Christ because of the testimony of saints gone before?” This refers to people who were being saved as a result of the lives of the faithful Christian martyrs. With no resurrection and no hope of life after death, then why are people coming to Christ through of the witness of dead saints? 

The third possibility is that Paul was sarcastically referring to the cultic practice of baptisms for the dead (i.e., “If you don’t believe in the resurrection, then why engage in the practice of baptizing people for the dead?”). The pagans might have been outwardly ridiculing the concept of resurrection, but inwardly they didn’t want to take any chances. So they baptized themselves for the dead. Paul’s sarcasm reveals that the practice was so twisted it needed no comment. Furthermore, he does not say “we” practice such a baptism but “they” as he refers to the pagans who did such. This possibility is likely because it does no injustice to the text, AND throughout 1 Corinthians Paul emphasizes his familiarity with the readers by using first person pronouns (“I” & “we”), but in v. 29 he switches to the third person plural pronoun “they.”

Food for Thought

            Any way you slice it the Bible never teaches that baptism saves a person. Water baptism always follows one’s conversion in the Bible, but it isn’t necessary for salvation. Salvation comes by God’s grace, through faith in Christ, apart from works. Baptism inevitably follows.

1 Corinthians 15:30-34… Why are we also in danger every hour? 31 I protest, brethren, by the boasting in you, which I have in Christ Jesus our Lord, I die daily. 32 If from human motives I fought with wild beasts at Ephesus, what does it profit me? If the dead are not raised, let us eat and drink, for tomorrow we die. 33 Do not be deceived: “Bad company corrupts good morals.” 34 Become sober-minded as you ought, and stop sinning; for some have no knowledge of God. I speak this to your shame.

Commentary

            In verse 30 the main issue Paul addresses is this: If there was no resurrection of the dead then why would he and the other apostles and prophets put themselves in danger every hour of every day? In v. 31 he passionately says, “I protest!” He protests against those who shunned the truth of the resurrection because nothing makes sense without it. His “dying daily” is a reference to the persecution he received each day for preaching about Christ’s resurrection. He was as proud of the lives of the converted Corinthians as he was about Christ’s resurrection from the dead. Their lives had been changed as a result of that truth, a truth he first preached to them, and that same truth was the very truth that brought him death on a daily basis. He boasted of that.

            In v. 32 Paul continues his logic on why his life was based upon the truth of Christ’s resurrection from the dead. He speaks of fighting with “wild beasts” in Ephesus. This is a reference to the people who persecuted him for teaching as he did. He says in 2 Cor. 1:8 that he “despaired even of life itself” while in Asia (Ephesus). Christianity was radical in that it was based on a man who was dead but who came back to life. It brought great persecution in Ephesus because they were such pagans. They worshipped Artemis a goddess statue they believed fell from the sky (Acts 19). Ironically they believed in miraculous ideas that were un-provable (statues falling from the sky), but they rejected the proof of Christ’s appearing to so many in the flesh after his death. The great persecution that Paul received for believing and preaching as he did would be nothing if it weren’t based upon truth. He wasn’t suffering for the sake of suffering; he was enduring pain and persecution for the sake of truth – a truth he ended up willingly dying for. Then he sarcastically quotes Isaiah 22:13 for emphasis saying, “Hey, let’s have a party! We might as well enjoy everything about life today because tomorrow we will die.”

            In v. 33 Paul quotes a well-known poet (Menander) who had written the Greek comedy Thais. No doubt the Corinthians knew this quote (“Be not deceived; bad company corrupts good morals”). He uses it to show them that those who taught that there was no resurrection were corrupting the Christians who had been converted on such a belief. The believers who associated with these naysayers were like a barrel of good apples among one rotten one, and their good morals were being corrupted. So it is when Christians regularly associate with skeptics.

            Paul’s clear command in v. 34 was for the orthodox Christians to separate themselves from the troublemakers and to stop sinning through their denial of the resurrection. Those believers who had fallen into the trap of skepticism were preventing the pagans from coming to a knowledge of God. And Paul brought this truth to light to “shame” these backslidden Christians.

Food for Thought

            Christ’s resurrection is sine qua non of the Christian faith. Those who deny it, no matter how noble their lives are (or were), are hopeless. As Christians we must not only believe in the truth of Christ’s resurrection, we must also live it and preach it. Regularly associating with those who deny that truth will inevitably corrupt us. Moral decadence comes as a direct result of those who deny the resurrection. Why? Because the pleasures of this life are all the hope they have.

1 Corinthians 15:35-38… But someone will say, “How are the dead raised? And with what kind of body do they come?” 36 You fool! That which you sow does not come to life unless it dies; 37 and that which you sow, you do not sow the body which is to be, but a bare grain, perhaps of wheat or of something else. 38 But God gives it a body just as He wished, and to each of the seeds a body of its own.

Commentary

            In v. 35 Paul anticipates the logical question that follows belief in a resurrection of a dead body. How exactly are they raised? And what kind of body do they receive when they’re raised? In first-century Corinth the prevailing philosophy was that the physical body was evil while only the spirit was good. Because of this belief (known as Gnosticism – today’s New Age movement) it was difficult for many to see how a resurrection body could be called good, and for that matter, how the feat could be pulled off in the first place. They believed that the spirit needed to be set free from the body, so they asked, “How can this be, and what kind of body do they get?” Of course it’s all supernaturally done by the Creator God who created the universe and mankind to begin with. If Genesis 1:1 is firmly believed then how can the resurrection be questioned?

            Paul’s answer to such questions in v. 36 is harsh. He calls people who ask such questions “fools.” But he wasn’t responding to people who were legitimately confused over the issue, rather he was responding to those who mockingly questioned the Christian faith based upon Christ’s resurrection from the dead and the resurrection of those who subsequently believe in such a truth. One can almost see his sarcastic and demeaning tone in calling them “fools” – a Greek word that denotes one who is silly and without common sense. (Where’s the love, man?). He uses the illustration of a seed sown in the ground which will not grow until it dies, and he relates this very concept to the phenomenon of human resurrection from the dead.

            Verse 37 elaborates on the seed illustration. When a seed of any kind is placed into the ground it dies. It is imperative that the seed cease to exist in its original form for it to actually begin to grow. Jesus said as much in John 12:24, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains by itself alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit.” This is what happens to a seed, and it’s exactly what Jesus did when he died. After his death he bore the fruit of those who would believe in him. His earthly body died and ceased to exist, but he came back just like a seed, with a different body. Following the death of a seed it reemerges from the ground in a completely different form, but this comes only after its death in the ground.

            In v. 38 Paul explains that God gives to the seed a new body after it dies. He said as much in 1 Cor. 3:6 in speaking of planting the seeds of salvation. In that example, as in 15:38 it is God who is causing the growth of the seed in the ground. Only He can do that. God gives the seed a new body with a radical change, but it must be noted that even though the seed becomes a tree or a plant, only a pine tree seed can become a pine tree – a grain of wheat to become a stalk of wheat. So it is with people. We die in our present form, but we will be resurrected into a more beautiful and glorified form that transcends time, space, and mass.

Food for Thought

            The illustration of the seed was the best Paul could give us in teaching how the dead are raised and with what form they take after resurrection. We’ve all planted flower seeds and/or vegetable seeds, so if you should have the opportunity to do so again with your child or with the children at church don’t miss the opportunity to share with them the illustration of death and resurrection. We will all die, but those who place their faith in Christ will rise again.

1 Corinthians 15:39-44… All flesh is not the same flesh, but there is one flesh of men, and another flesh of beasts, and another flesh of birds, and another of fish. 40 There are also heavenly bodies and earthly bodies, but the glory of the heavenly is one, and the glory of the earthly is another. 41 There is one glory of the sun, and another glory of the moon, and another glory of the stars; for star differs from star in glory. 42 So also is the resurrection of the dead. It is sown a perishable body, it is raised an imperishable body; 43 it is sown in dishonor, it is raised in glory; it is sown in weakness, it is raised in power; 44 it is sown a natural body, it is raised a spiritual body. If there is a natural body, there is also a spiritual body.

Commentary

            Paul explains further in vv. 39-44 how resurrection bodies will differ from earthly bodies. In v. 39 he says that there are many different forms of flesh, but none are the same. There is the flesh of men, of beasts, of birds, and of fish. Anyone who has observed these animals knows that each of these life forms has its own unique flesh. It has been noted by science that there are over 600 octodecillion (a 60 with 108 zeros behind it) combinations of amino acids which are the building blocks of all life. With that in mind it is amazing to note that not only does each type of plant, animal, and human life have its own distinct pattern of amino acids, but each individual human, plant, and animal also does. This is why it is said that no two snowflakes are exactly alike. They are as unique as each person, animal, and plant is unique. No life form is able to change into another life form. It’s never been observed scientifically, and this is a verified fact despite the claims of evolutionists to the contrary. Their beliefs stem from a philosophy and a faith, not true science as they so often claim.

Now in the same way that each created being has different flesh so too do the heavenly bodies of the universe in v. 40. The glory of the earth differs from that of the skies which differs from that of the sun which differs from that of the moon which differs from that of the stars. Each body is unique, and so it is also, in v. 42, with the resurrection of the dead. Resurrected bodies will look as distinct from their earthly bodies as the sun does from the moon. The body that comes out of the mother’s womb is a body that will die – it is like a seed sown to die in the ground – it is a perishable body. But after it dies it is raised imperishable – indestructible. This is why death loses its sting (vv. 55-56) because it’s only the inauguration of the imperishable body.

Verse 43 speaks of the body being sown in “dishonor” but raised in “glory.” This passage speaks of the body’s worth and ability. Man’s body after the Fall in Gen. 3 had a drastically reduced ability for pleasing God. It had far less worth after sin than it did prior to. The body that was created to honor and serve God became a body of dishonor that only rebelled against Him. Mankind’s continual refusal to obey God and to abuse the physical body He gave us attests to this. But the good news is that He will grant to His children a glorified body that does please. The body “sown in weakness” will be “raised in power.” In other words, the body we have today that gets sick and becomes weak will be replaced with one that has no weaknesses and is eternal.

Food for Thought

            The body we enjoy today will not be with us for long. The natural body that God gave us will die, and we can count on that – even look forward to it. Though our souls are eternal and are with God when we die (believers only) we gain a spiritual body because our physical ones die. That’s just the way God works (see v. 44). A natural body means that there is also a spiritual body. The question is, where will your spiritual body reside for eternity? Will it be with Jesus in heaven or with the Bible-rejecters in hell? All will be raised to live in one place or the other.

1 Corinthians 15:45-49… So also it is written, “The first man, Adam, became a living soul.” The last Adam became a life-giving spirit. 46 However, the spiritual is not first, but the natural; then the spiritual. 47 The first man is from the earth, earthy; the second man is from heaven. 48 As is the earthy, so also are those who are earthy; and as is the heavenly, so also are those who are heavenly. 49 And just as we have borne the image of the earthy, we shall also bear the image of the heavenly.

Commentary

            In attempting to contrast the physical and the spiritual body Paul once again uses an analogy, this time the Old Testament (OT). The reference in v. 45 is to Genesis 2:7 where God first created Adam, the first man. After creating him from the dust of the ground God breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and Adam “became a living soul.” But Adam listened to the advice of his wife which contradicted God’s command in Gen. 3, and once he sinned against God all of his offspring (all humans) would then be born into the same sin and curse. As a result of his sin he, and everyone born of his loins (all humans), would die. This is what Paul meant in vv. 21-22 (cf. Rom. 5:12) when he said that death came to all through one man – Adam. But in the same way that the first Adam brought death to all with his sin, the second Adam, Jesus Christ, “became a life-giving spirit.” The first Adam became a living “soul,” and the second Adam became a life-giving “spirit.” The “soul” refers to human beings; the “spirit” to those who are “born-again” through faith in Jesus Christ (cf. John 3). Whereas Adam brought death to every human soul, Jesus Christ brought life to those born of the Spirit. It must not go without noticing that Paul, under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, believed in the Genesis creation.

            Now in v. 46 the argument is put forth that from the Adam-and-Jesus-contrast it was the natural body that came first then the spiritual. Verse 47 says that mankind comes from the earth (cf. Gen. 2:7) – he is “earthy” – that is, he is made of flesh and blood with deteriorates into dust. But the second man, Jesus Christ, “is from heaven.” Jesus wasn’t just a regular man who became God, he has always been God, and he became a man through the womb of the virgin Mary without losing any of his God-ness. The fact that he came from heaven, in Paul’s argument, means that he is able to give the life-giving “spirit” to the sinful “soul” of mankind. The sharp distinction between earthly souls and heavenly born-again Christians is clearly brought to light in v. 48. And this goes to great lengths to answer the original question of what resurrected bodies will look like and how exactly will they be raised (cf. v. 35). It was the Triune God who created mankind in the first place and gave him life, but Jesus Christ is said to have created all things in Colossians 1:16 leading us to believe that He was the member of the Godhead who did the creating of Adam. Now in the same way that He created mankind with a living “soul,” He is also the one who is able to give the “life-giving spirit.” The first is perishable and will die (the physical body). The second is eternal, and as v. 49 attests, because we have all “born the image of the earthy” (been given a living body), we will also “bear the image of the heavenly” – receive an eternal and glorified body which will be very similar to Christ’s resurrected and glorified physical body. Christ’s body bore the marks of his beatings, but was in fact perfectly glorified.

Food for Thought

            The hope for all believers is that death is not the end. It has been said that one doesn’t know how to live until one knows how to die. Knowing Christ should teach us to die daily as Paul did for preaching and living out the truth of the Gospel, but it also gives us great peace to know that when our time is ultimately up we gain a new body, a new life, and eternity w/Christ.

The Believer’s Resurrection Process

Introduction

I)            If there is no resurrection…

A)    Why do some baptize for the dead? (v. 29)

1)      Why give money to the poor?

2)      Why do good deeds?

3)      Why baptize children?

B)    Why suffer at all by serving God? (30-32a)

C)    Then just eat, drink, & be merry (32b)

II)         The deception of false teachers…

A)    They corrupt orthodoxy (33)

B)    They hinder the Gospel (34)

The Resurrection Body

I)            The Raising of the Dead (35-44)

A)    Death brings life (36-38)

B)    Earthly vs. heavenly flesh (39-42)

C)    Inferior vs. superior body (42-44)

1)      Sown perishable; raised imperishable

2)      Sown in dishonor; raised in glory

3)      Sown in weakness; raised in power

4)      Sown natural; raised spiritual

II)         Adam’s Soul & Jesus’ Spirit (45-49)

A)    Adam: living soul; earthy (45, 47)

B)    Jesus Christ: life-giving spirit; heavenly (45, 47)

C)    Natural body then spiritual body (46)

D)    Born in Adam’s likeness; Reborn in Christ’s (49)

E)     Transformed Christian body (Philippians 3:21)

For when he says, that under the name of flesh is comprehended the body of a man as well as of a beast, and yet the flesh in those two cases is different, he means by this that the substance indeed is the same, but there is a difference as to quality. The sum is this — that whatever diversity we see in any particular kind is a sort of prelude of the resurrection, because God clearly shows, that it is no difficult thing with him to renew our bodies by changing the present condition of things.[1]

He implies by the word that our resurrection bodies shall be in some sense really flesh, not mere phantoms of air [Estius]. So some of the oldest creeds expressed it, “I believe in the resurrection of the flesh.” Compare as to Jesus’ own resurrection body, Lu 24:39; Jn 20:27; to which ours shall be made like, and therefore shall be flesh, but not of animal organism (Php 3:21) and liable to corruption. But 1Co 15:50 below implies, it is not “flesh and blood” in the animal sense we now understand them; for these “shall not inherit the kingdom of God.”[2]


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[1]Calvin, John. Calvin's Commentaries. electronic ed. electronic ed., 1 Co 15:35. Garland, TX: Galaxie Software, 2000.

[2]Jamieson, Robert, A. R. Fausset, A. R. Fausset et al.. A Commentary, Critical and Explanatory, on the Old and New Testaments. On spine: Critical and explanatory commentary., 1 Co 15:39. Oak Harbor, WA: Logos Research Systems, Inc., 1997.

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